Classic WWI play gets Selsey staging

Gillian Plowman
Gillian Plowman

Arts Dream Selsey marks the centenary of the Armistice with a production of Journey’s End by R C Sherriff in the very building in which Sherriff himself once saw the play performed.

The production runs from October 4-9 at The Pavilion, 103 High Street, Selsey, with tickets available from Highhouse Insurance Services Limited, 101 High Street, Selsey or online at http://www.ticketsource.co.uk/artsdreamselsey

Sherriff started to write Journey’s End whilst on holiday in Selsey in August 1927. The play went on to become a worldwide hit. Sherriff was present at the 1933 production of Journey’s End in the Selsey Pavilion.

Gillian Plowman is delighted to be directing her favourite play –the crowning moment of efforts to revive the venue so far: “Four years ago in 2014, the centenary of the start of World War One, was our first look inside that old building which we turned from being a builder’s yard into the trenches for The End of the Journey, my original play, which we did as a promenade performance. We persuaded the owner to allow us to use it as a theatre and thereafter he converted the foyer into a coffee house. We did a play about Charlie Chaplin and then a few of my own plays, but really to put on Journey’s End now is the apex of our desires.

“It is very emotional. Within history, although it is 100 years ago, the First World War still feels within reach through my father and his father. It still feels within grasp, and it was the war that changed everything. Women went out to work. Also the play is beautifully structured.

“I came to live in Selsey and I walked up and down the high street and looked at the frontage of this old building and then came to realise that R C Sherriff had these connections with Selsey and that he went to rehearsals of the play in this building and saw the play in this building in 1933 and went up on stage. There is a frisson. It is wonderful. It is the same stage. And in 1933 it was local young men on the stage, just as it is now. You can still see them there, the same play at the same time. You really feel you can reach back.”

Set over the course of four days leading up to a massive German attack on the British trenches in 1918, Journey’s End charts the tension and claustrophobia as the new recruit to the company, Lieutenant Raleigh, discovers that Captain Stanhope, his former childhood friend and hero, has changed almost beyond recognition.

Part of the fascination is that Journey’s End is not a propaganda play. It is not an anti-war play: “Sherriff was there. He just wants to explain what happened. There are no women in the play, and you can imagine when it was first performed (on December 9 1928 starring a young Laurence Olivier), the wives and the sweethearts and the mothers that had lost men in the war came along to understand what it was that had taken place. It was not a play saying ‘No more wars!’ but a play where people just sat there and realised and understood.”

For Selsey, the current production might just usher in a new era in other ways: “Planning permission has now been granted to renovate the Pavilion as a theatre, but the drawback is that it needs planning permission now for the area around it. It is like phase one and phase two, but I would like to think that Journey’s End might be the last production that Arts Dream Selsey does before the renovation.”

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